As I mentioned in last week's entry, I spent a number of months early in my career as a bread baker. While baking bread on a large, restaurant scale bored me, baking bread at home is one of my favorite things to do. To this day I find few things as gratifying as the simple act of mixing flour, water and yeast together and watching as it transforms from a lumpy mass to a smooth ball and, ultimately, to a delicious soft or crusty loaf.
While most people I know share my love and enthusiasm for fresh baked bread, few are willing to venture into such an undertaking at home. I think that this is mostly due to fear of failure, which is understandable since a big part of making bread requires some knowledge of what the dough is supposed to look and feel like and sometimes the slightest of errors– such as too much or too little water or over or under kneading– can lead to less than desirable results.
Well now there is a new book that takes all of the fear and mystery out of bread baking leaving you without an excuse for not doing so. The technique presented in this book is beyond simple and the result is one of the best homemade breads you'll ever taste. The book is called My Bread and was written by Jim Lahey, the owner of The Sullivan Street Bakery in New York.
Here's basically how it works: First you mix flour, water and yeast together by hand (no mixer or dough hooks needed.) The mixture is very wet so it does not require much muscle or time to get the ingredients combined. Once mixed, you cover the bowl, set it aside in a warm place and leave it alone for 12-18 hours. Afterwards, you pour the dough out onto a countertop or cutting board, tuck the edges under to make it round, place it in a preheated pot and bake it for about an hour. The result is a crusty, chewy, impossibly delicious artisanal style bread. There is no endless kneading, no huge mess to clean up and it is so simple that anybody can do it.
The book contains a number of other bread recipes, made in basically the same way, but with the addition of different flavorings or ingredients. My favorites so far are the coconut-chocolate bread and the Olive Bread.
There are also recipes for things like pizzas, focaccias and other quicker breads that only take a couple of hours to complete.
I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone who loves fresh baked bread, but especially to those who have previously been too intimidated to attempt bread baking on their own. You will be thrilled with how easy a skill this is to master and even more thrilled by how delicious the bread tastes!